Tri-Cities fire chiefs urge residents to dig out fire hydrants

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 7:10 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Geneva firefighters Andy Ryan (left) and Colin Burgess clear snow from around a fire hydrant Monday afternoon. Geneva, St. Charles and Batavia fire departments are urging residents to clear snow from hydrants in their neighborhoods or to call their respective department for assistance.

The unrelenting snow and below-freezing temperatures have created a problem the Tri-Cities fire chiefs hope residents can help reduce: Hydrants buried in snow.

“If citizens could help us, we’d appreciate it,” Batavia Fire Chief Randy Deicke said Monday in a meeting with Geneva Fire Chief Steve Olson and St. Charles Fire Chief Joe Schelstreet.

In addition to snowfall, hydrants can be covered with snow pushed by plows or thrown by snowblowers. Locating the hydrants can be difficult even with assistance from maps, Olson said, noting those situations require “hunting around.”

The fire departments have worked to unblock hydrants, the chiefs said, but with about 7,000 hydrants throughout the Tri-Cities, they don’t have the time or resources to make sure each one is clear.

“The cul-de-sacs tend to be brutal,” Schelstreet said, noting the limited space between houses.

The chiefs – whose departments often respond to each other’s emergencies – said they’re working toward a common solution because inaccessible hydrants is a common issue that can lead to minutes lost when fighting fires.

In two words, Schelstreet described what it feels like to arrive at a fire only to have the closest hydrant blocked by snow: “very frustrating.”

Although engines carry a supply of water, Olson stressed that operating time is limited to about three minutes, depending on the hose diameter.

Keeping hydrants visible also is important to prevent them from being damaged by snowplows, Schelstreet said.

When unburying hydrants, the chiefs said, it’s not enough to be able to see their tops.

Enough space must be available for firefighters to attach and maneuver the hoses, they said.

The chiefs understand some piles might be more than residents can handle. In some cases, they said, heavier equipment from public works is – and has been – more fit for the job. Residents who need help digging out the hydrants near their home are encouraged to call their fire department, which can pass along the request to the appropriate city department, the chiefs said.

Any individuals or groups wanting to help beyond their home are encouraged to contact their city’s fire department. Contact Batavia at 630-454-2100, Geneva at 630-232-2530 and St. Charles at 630-377-4458.

The chiefs said they would be more than happy for the help.

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Jan Schlictmann at a Geneva law firm.

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